Defence Minister Antti Kaikkonen (Cen) has told Yle that Finland's crisis management operation in Afghanistan is nearing its end, as U.S. sources revealed that the United States plans to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan in September.
The withdrawal of U.S. troops would also mean the end of the Finnish operation.
"What this means is that Finnish troops will leave Afghanistan this year, likely by the autumn, but there are no confirmed dates as yet," Kaikkonen said.
The exact timing of the withdrawal is likely to be decided in the coming weeks.
According to media reports, U.S. President Joe Biden plans to withdraw the country’s troops by 11 September, which marks the 20th anniversary of the attack on the United States.
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In 2001, a coordinated terrorist attack by al-Qaeda on the World Trade Centre in New York, the Pentagon in Washington and other locations resulted in the war against Taliban forces in Afghanistan by the U.S. military.
The White House said President Biden will give a speech regarding the Afghanistan operation later on Wednesday. Officially, the United States has about 2,500 troops in Afghanistan.
Risk of early withdrawal
Kaikkonen said that the risk of early withdrawal would be the escalation of unrest in the country, if Afghan authorities are unable to maintain order on their own.
"Problematic side effects can be the growth of drug trafficking and possibly terrorism. Afghanistan will likely need support in the future – perhaps in the shape of civilian crisis management," the minister said.
It is important, Kaikkonen added, that the successes of the operation and the price paid for these accomplishments are reviewed once the operation is over. Internationally, the price paid has been substantial, he said.
"Not every situation can be dealt with militarily, but in dealing with terrorism, and matters of a similar nature, it needs to be an option. Terrorism cannot be given a foothold," Kaikkonen said.
20 Finnish troops currently stationed in Afghanistan
Finland has been gradually repatriating its troops from Afghanistan and there are currently about twenty Finnish soldiers in the country – down from 60 in November 2020.
Finnish soldiers stationed in Afghanistan have taken part in the NATO-led Operation Resolute Support, which aims to support the local government in rebuilding the country and strengthening its democracy.
Around 2,500 Finnish troops have served in Afghanistan over the past two decades. At most, 200 troops have been present at one time.
A total of about 250 Finnish civilian crisis management personnel, such as police trainers, have been stationed in Afghanistan over the past 20 years, in addition to NGO workers.